2023 Summer ReadingWelcome to Mindful Return’s 2023 Summer Reading List!  This is my 8th (huzzah!) annual book roundup for working parents.  This past year, I’ve also been loving hosting our second year of monthly author talks.  Through these webinars, I’ve had a chance to speak with many of these writers personally. (You can find some replays in links below!)

This year I’ve decided to group the books into categories…particularly since the list is longer this year!  (It appears I’ve managed to find a few more minutes each day to read than during the pandemic, so have made it through more great books than the past few years.)  Here the categories into which I’ve grouped this year’s 11 books:

  • Working Parent Mindset
  • Parenthood, Race, & Justice
  • Kids + Technology Addiction
  • Life Roadmaps
  • Parent-Child Tag-Team Fiction

I’m still a big fan of all the books I’ve recommended in my first seven summer reading lists, which you can find here:

As always, if you’re a new or newish working mama, I hope you’ll check out my own book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.  And if you’re looking for advice on building and maintaining professional and personal relationships (what some people call “networking”), be sure to get a copy of my husband Jason Levin’s book, Relationships to Infinity: The Art and Science of Keeping in Touch.

And now, onto this year’s list!  Pick just one of these great books for starters, and let us know in comments below which one you decided on.

2023 Summer Reading List for Working Parents

2023 summer reading

Category: Working Parent Mindset

Work, Parent, Thrive: 12 Science-Backed Strategies to Ditch Guilt, Manage Overwhelm, and Grow Connection (When Everything Feels Like Too Much), by Yael Schonbrun, PhD

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Dr. Yael Schonbrun about Work, Parent, Thrive using this link. 

  • Why read it? Schonbrun’s stated goal with this book is to teach us to “relate differently” to the challenges of working parenthood, rather than trying to get rid of them.  She succeeds brilliantly.  As a working parent herself, she lives first-hand the struggles she sees in her psychology practice.  Her work is grounded in science and is incredibly practical.  My copy is marked up heavily with quotes I return to again and again as I teach Mindful Return programs.  The book pairs beautifully with Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.
  • Favorite quote? “In considering the complexities of the relationship between our life roles, we encounter a few important truths.  First, the conflict between our important life roles exists as a natural part of being human.  It lives inside of our hearts and souls because these roles matter so deeply to use, and because they activate unique parts of our souls that offer vitality and meaning.  Tension between roles and desires is part and parcel of being alive.”

Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included), by Pooja Lakshmin, MD

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Dr. Pooja Lakshmin about Real Self-Care using this link.

  • Why read it? If you have ever felt burnout, or frustration that quick “fixes” don’t help us feel better, this book is a must-read.  Lakshmin gets at the deep and real reasons we struggle, and she defines the “faux self-care” that our society seems to glorify.  She dares us to look inside and do the internal work on things like self-compassion, boundary-setting, aligning with our values, and asserting our own power.  These are truly the things that make a difference.  And they’re things working parents tend to struggle with in spades.
  • Favorite quote? “I frequently see women struggle with guilt tolerance…Facing guilt requires accepting the fact that we cannot control and are not responsible for the emotions of other people.  To effectively say no we must learn to tolerate other people’s disappointment and trust that it is not a moral failing on our part.  Because many of us did not develop this muscle growing up, it’s not unusual for it to feel uncomfortable when we start setting boundaries as an adult.”

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, MD

  • Why read it? While not directed specifically toward parents, this book is very helpful to better understanding our own brains and emotions.  And those of our children.  I love learning about neuroscience but am a layperson.  Hanson’s work strikes the right level of complexity for someone who isn’t a physician but wants to know what the heck is going on in our brains.  Reading this book has helped me to become more aware of some of my own well-dug (but previously invisible) thought patterns.
  • Favorite quote? “Imagine that your mind is like a house with a mud-room—the entry room in cold climates where people put their messy boots and dripping coats.  With equanimity, your initial reactions to things—reach for this carrot, push away that stick—are left in a mental mud room so that the interior of your mind remains clear and clean and peaceful.”

Fathering Together: Living a Connected Dad Life, by Brian Anderson

Note: Join us for our upcoming Mindful Return Book Talk with Brian Anderson about Fathering Together on Thursday, June 8, 2023.  Register here!

  • Why read it? I sorted this book under “Working Parent Mindset,” because Brian does a beautiful job of reframing the modern fatherhood archetype.  He asks important questions about who dads can be in the world.  Specifically he focuses on things like being present, emotionally courageous, other-oriented, and accepting.  His model is one of “servant-leadership” as a father, and he very clearly walks his own talk.  Be sure to give a copy of this one to a dad in your life.
  • Favorite quote? “No one told me the skills I’ve been using in the workplace can translate into the home.  If they had, I think I would have approached the daunting role of fatherhood a lot more differently.”  Also, “Forcing our children into predetermined pathways and identities will ultimately harm them and undermine the trust we are trying to build within the family.  So to be a servant leader dad is to see the world from the eyes of your children and learn everything you can to support them in their development.”

Category:  Parenthood, Race, & Justice

The Mamas: What I learned About Kids, Class, and Race from Moms Not Like Me, by Helena Andrews-Dyer

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Helena Andrews-Dyer about The Mamas using this link.

  • Why Read It? If you’re a White mom like I am, who has aspirations of parenting my children in an anti-racist way, reading this book is an important and sobering eye-opener.  And if you’re a Black mom – or likely a mom who is a Woman of Color, period – I suspect you will feel incredibly seen and heard in its pages.  Regardless of who you are, reading Andrews-Dyer’s wit and brilliance will have you laughing, crying, and thinking deeply all at once.  I also learned a lot about housing justice and the history of DC neighborhoods not far from where I live.
  • Favorite Quote? “Forget partying like a white girl, what I really wanted, deep down in the sunken place, was to parent like one.  All the love but minus the crippling legacy of institutionalized socioeconomic oppression and the baked-in fear that your child might get murdered while playing at the park.  Heavy shit like that.  And even though at the end of the day as an educated and employed Black woman I can sort of parent like a white girl (I mean, we had as much expensive baby ‘gear’ as the next nuclear family), that’s all just smoke and mirrors.  Our stash was less about utility than it was evidence.  See, we can do this too!  Look at her many leather-bound books!  But take away a paycheck or two, burn a few degrees, and we go from the Obamas on the cover of Ebony to the tragic Blacks of Trump’s dystopian inner-city fantasy.”

Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor’s Fight for Fairness, by Laura Coates

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Laura Coates about Just Pursuit using this link.

  • Why Read It? Read it because Laura Coates is a brilliant storyteller.  Because she’s a keen observer of the criminal justice system.  And because she’s a working mom who gives us a rare and brilliant window into the life of a Black prosecutor who also happens to, at various points, be pregnant and raising small children while serving as a trial attorney.  Her stories are riveting, sobering, and necessary reading for us all.
  • Favorite Quote? “Had I been just a prosecutor, I would never have wrestled with the issue.  Manuel had illegally crossed the border and ignored a court order.  Wasn’t that enough to diminish my professional compassion?  But instead, there are many descriptors that precede my hyphenated America.  A Black woman.  A wife.  A mother.  A public servant.  A human being.  But the law, no matter how unjust the consequence, came first that day.  And in spite of my office’s lauding me a patriot and unflappable professional, I will question that choice for the rest of my life.”

Category: Kids + Technology Addiction

Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers: A Step-by-Step Gide to Balancing Your Child’s Use of Technology, by Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD

  • Why Read It? Because who among us isn’t worried about the effects of these incredibly compelling screens on both ourselves and our kiddos?  Personally, I’m not convinced that self-help measures can fully dig us out of the trouble we’re in (see Unwired, below), but I don’t like feeling as though I have no control.  This book provides helpful and specific language we can use with our children.  Palladino helps us realize we can, at the very least, help us be more aware of our states of mind like voluntary and involuntary attention.
  • Favorite Quote? “Help young children become more aware of their own attention.  Use words like ‘focused’ or ‘distracted,’ ‘on-task’ or ‘off-task,’ and ‘undivided attention’ or ‘divided attention.’  Preface those terms with “choose to be” to increase their awareness that they’re in charge of these attentional states.  When your child is old enough to understand the concept, explain the difference to him between ‘voluntary attention and ‘involuntary’ attention.”

Unwired: Gaining Control over Addictive Technologies, by Gaia Bernstein

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Gaia Bernstein about Unwired using this link.

  • Why Read It? Gaia Bernstein is a law professor.  As a lawyer, I appreciated her ability to look at the screen debate in the context of the legal system.  She makes analogies to tobacco and food litigation, discusses privacy laws, makes a compelling case for why self-help measures don’t work when it comes to limiting our screen time, and got me to look at “technology overuse” in an entirely new way.
  • Favorite Quote? “We do not have to do away with our technologies, but we can redesign them to make them less abusive and addictive.  Freud’s analogy of the horse and his rider is instrumental here.  While our instinctive desire – the horse – is to stay on our screens, we should focus on becoming the rider ‘who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.’  We can do so by collectively pushing for redesign of both our technologies and the physical spaces in which we use them.”

Category: Life Roadmaps

Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters, by Laura Vanderkam

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Laura Vanderkam about Tranquility by Tuesday using this link. https://event.webinarjam.com/go/replay/42/wylq7io6cr3co1cx

  • Why Read It? Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam’s latest book is eminently practical and data-driven.  She introduces 9 specific strategies that she’s discovered actually do improve “time satisfaction” – how satisfied people feel about the use of their own time.  From giving yourself a bedtime to doing things that are “effortful before effortless,” the “rules” as she calls them aren’t rocket science.  But, if implemented one by one, the little tweaks do make a huge difference.  I’m currently doing an adopt-one-new-rule-per-month plan with a friend, and so far it’s been really helpful.  I also like that for each rule, she offers a bonus or “next step.”  So if you already have one mastered, she offers a “challenge” level idea.
  • Favorite Quote? “When I follow these nine rules, my life feels better.  I feel more in control of the careening pieces.  My life feels rich and full – like I am making better use of whatever time I’ve been given, not doing stuff just to put stuff on the calendar, but because I wish to be a good steward of life’s possibilities.”

Money and Love: An Intelligent Road Map for Life’s Biggest Decisions, by Myra Strober & Abby Davisson

Note: You can access the Mindful Return Book Talk with Abby Davisson about Money and Love using this link. https://event.webinarjam.com/go/replay/38/zy503ixpiz4iyxiv

  • Why Read It? If you had a “how to think through major life decisions” class in college or graduate school, this book would be the curriculum.  Strober and Davisson are actually a Professor-Student pair, who took the material from a business school class on these very subjects and turned them into a practical issue-spotting guide.  For each major life decision (think: getting married, deciding where to live, combining family and career), they highlight key concerns we should be thinking about and provide a framework called the 5Cs for thinking about each step.  The chapter called “The Senior Years: Caring for Elders” was perhaps the most helpful for me, given the life stage I’m currently in.
  • Favorite Quote? This quote comes from a chapter at the end of the book called “Be the Change: Changing the Work/Family System (How You Can Play a Part)”: “Debra Meyerson, author of Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work, coined the term ‘tempered radicals,’ which describes people like us and perhaps you, as well.  Meyerson describes tempered radicals as ‘people who want to succeed in their organizations yet want to live by their values or identities, even if they are somehow at odds with the dominant culture of their organizations.’  ‘Tempered radicals,’ Meyerson maintains, ‘are more likely to think ‘out of the box’ because they are not fully in the box.  As ‘outsiders within,’ they have both a critical and a creative edge.  They speak new truths.  Tempered radicals are often effective change agents because they know how to navigate within systems to get things done.”

Category: Parent-Child Tag-Team Fiction

A Friend for Otter, by Jesse and Ván Medlong

Note: You can access a Mindful Return guest post that Jesse Medlong wrote about writing this book with his child using this link.

  • Why Read It? Read this book because it’s a delightful, whimsical, and beautiful story.  Because the main character is so loveable.  And because the language and imagery are truly a delight.  Also read it because a working dad and his child wrote it together.  Jesse Medlong crafted the language of this novel in bite-sized pieces each morning for years, while walking up staircases to his law firm office.  And his child, Ván Medlong dreamed up the story, its characters, and the places.  This tale would make for a wonderful movie.  Given it’s YA fiction, I’m hoping my kiddos will read it soon, too.
  • Favorite Quote? “They were surprised to find an elderly man with a long white mustache and a shock of white hair standing beside what appeared to be a massive, furry caterpillar, with rather long, thin arms protruding at regular intervals along its body.  That was what had stuck its head over the gate to greet them.  ‘Well,’ the old man started in a slow wheeze, ‘you’re here.’ Reaching gnarled fingers into a rumpled breast pocket, he retrieved a brightly wrapped candy, which he unwrapped and then popped into his mouth with a flick before stuffing the wrapper back into his pocket and returning his impassive attention to the pair of strangers before him.”

Happy summer reading to you!  If you pick up one of these gems, please do leave a note in comments below and tell me what you thought!


Back to Work After Baby

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave

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